VOL. 122 | NO. 56 | Monday, March 26, 2007
Lot of Potential
By Amy O. Williams
DOWN BUT NOT OUT: The 95-acre vacant property at Perkins Road and Interstate 240 was once home to the Mall of Memphis. Even before the mall was torn down two years ago, it was a shell of its former bustling self. -- Photos By Rosalind Guy And The Daily News
Editor's note: This is the first in The Daily News' five-part Retail Reinvented series about the past - and future - of the local shopping landscape.
The former site of the iconic Mall of Memphis now lays open and empty, thanks to a demolition more than two years ago of the 1.2 million-square-foot retail center. But that might change within the next year or so as the mall site could begin to resemble the thriving retail center it once was.
In September, a spokesman for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. confirmed the mega-retailer was under contract for 20 acres of the 95-acre site at Perkins Road and Interstate 240.
Wal-Mart officials still are evaluating the site as the possible location for a Super Wal-Mart, said Scott Barton, vice president of retail services for CB Richard Ellis Memphis (CBRE). A division of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., CBRE represents the buyer.
"It's a great site. It's 95 acres right on the interstate," Barton said.
'Shot in the arm'
The site, which has frontage on both I-240 and Perkins - is almost in the exact center of the Memphis metropolitan statistical area, Barton said. He expects Wal-Mart to make a decision regarding its future at the property some time this year.
"It would be a great shot in the arm for the city," Barton said.
As for the remaining acreage, Barton said there are several possibilities, including a hotel.
"There is non-retail use that could go on the remainder of the property," he said. "Ninety-five acres is a lot, no doubt about it."
Since CBRE is the listing agent for the site, Barton would not elaborate on any specific plans for it, but he said something will definitely happen with the property this year.
"As far as the site as a whole, we're very optimistic for a development of the site involving retail and potential non-retail uses," he said. "And as far as timing, we think things will be nailed down in 2007."
Retail center of it all
Though the mall was torn down in October 2004, there are some who remember the glory days when the mall was the center of activity in Memphis. One of those is Doug Force, who is creator and Webmaster of www.mallofmemphis.org.
The site is dedicated to all things Mall of Memphis, complete with photos of ice skater Dorothy Hamill from the day the mall opened in October 1981. The site also has stories from people who visited the mall and, like Force, still think of the Mall of Memphis as part of their history.
"For a lot of people in Memphis in their late 30s and early 40s, that was the hangout," Force said. "So there were a lot of good memories and fun that people had growing up over there."
The Mall of Memphis closed in December 2003 after a more than 20-year run. During its prime, it was the busiest mall in Memphis for shopping, dining and ice skating, as it contained the city's only public ice rink, Force said. During peak periods, more than 250,000 people in a single month frequented the facility.
Before the mall was demolished, visitors to Forece's Web site posted ideas on how to reuse the property instead of tearing it down. The mall offered 1.2 million square feet for a number of possible uses, Force wrote. Ideas ranged from a library, community center or a jail to the largest indoor car dealer or even a giant flea market.
Of course with the building's demolition, none of that matters now.
While Force is sentimental about the mall, he said it suffered from an image problem that, whether right or wrong, ultimately led to its demise. It is no doubt, he said, that being known as the "Mall of Murder" was not good for business. Force blamed the media for perpetuating that image of the mall as a dangerous place.
"TV reporters who used the 'Mall of Murder' tag line sort of created the impression that it was more dangerous than it was," he said.
Force said he remembers reports of murders that might have happened eight or 10 miles away from the mall being referred to as "in the Mall of Memphis area."
"I really think that it was what killed the mall," he said.
And officials from Wal-Mart said the same thing when they began looking into the site, he said.
"The truth is that the Mall of Memphis - and I think the Wal-Mart people said this - lost a public relations war with those that believed it was the Mall of Murder," Force said. "I think if they had named it Memphis Galleria, or something that didn't go so easily with murder, I think it would probably still be here."